Social Content Engines: Notes from Search Exchange 2013

What exactly is a social content engine, and how is it critical to the success of your social media – and more broadly, content marketing – efforts? That’s the question I tried to address in my talk this week at Search Exchange 2013 in Charlotte, NC.

It’s a great event with an engaged crowd spending three-days covering SEO, Pay-Per-Click, and Social Media Marketing, and I had the privilege (and pressure!) of being scheduled right in the middle of speakers like Geno Church of Brains on Fire, and my old colleagues Kim Matlock of Hard Rock Cafe (from my Microsoft Developer Evangelism days) and Brian Chappell of Adapt Partners (from my Ignite Social Media days). Thank you to Keith Schilling for the invite. I’ve summarized the key takeaways of my presentation below.

What exactly is a social content engine anyway? In my very first blog post for Pace after joining the agency 18 months or so ago, I latched on to the concept of a content engine to try and explain what it is a content agency like Pace does for our clients. Since then, I’ve found the metaphor to be a pretty simple way to describe our process and capabilities: we build the engine, fuel it, and fine tune it. That’s the basics of my presentation.
It all starts with a definition of a simple engine:
A machine with moving parts that converts power (core content and content strategy) into motion (activity, engagement, and results among your target audience).
Translate that a bit into marketing-speak and apply to social media, and you get:
The platforms, processes, and people that convert your core content and strategy (power) into social media activity, engagement, and results (motion).
The deck itself explores what this means at a high level, touching on oft-neglected – yet incredibly critical – elements of the engine such as the people you hire to build and run it, the nature of the organization, and the backend tools and processes.
A quick rundown of some of the key takeaways includes:
  • A social content engine just makes life that much easier: A social content engine is critical for a range of reasons, such as it enables clear and consistent content planning that aligns with your core content strategy; allows – really, enforces – more effective and efficient use of content across your social media channel mix; aides in breaking down natural silos that form between people, processes, and channels.
  • Choose your social channels and platforms with care, and think of small, fast wins: Don’t build the locomotive if all you need is a backyard mower: When it comes to platforms and channels, start modest and aim for small wins.
  • Connect back to the core content: Always tie your social media efforts and content planning back to your core digital content strategy and the business outcomes it drives.
  • Don’t neglect the boring – backend tools and processes can make or break you: In social everyone likes to talk about social media publishing, monitoring, syndication, and analytics tools. They are interesting, dynamic, and get all the great press. But just as critical are the backend content management systems, digital asset management suites, and editorial workflow tools – not as fun, perhaps, but just as key to your success.
  • Don’t build silos, in your teams or your channels: As the teams that own social media and content creation grow, it’s all too easy for them to wind up in traditional – and toxic – silos, walled off from each other by reporting structures and divergent commitments. Find ways to inspire collaboration.
  • Optimize relentlessly for infinite improvement: The nature of content engines means you have the opportunity – the responsibility – to infinitely improve your content, channel, and program performance through the smart use of analytics and insights.
  • Everyone’s talking about big data, think instead about big insights: Fact is, most marketers don’t have a clue to do with the vast firehoses of data now available to them. Yet they still scramble for more. You can do amazing things with smaller, more targeted chunks of data, smart analysts armed with simple tools. And you can probably make better use of their output.

I could go on, and the presentation does, in part because the idea of an engine – carefully constructed, continually demanding fuel, and constantly fine tuned – lends itself so well to the content creation challenge in most organizations.

What other metaphors work well for you, to simply explain complex business processes like this? Please share in the comments or with me on Twitter!

Photo by Matt Hintsa from Flickr under Creative Commons. For image attribution in the presentation, refer to the final slide.

Full presentation available here.

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